The prisoners of Pleasant Cottage

The owners of an idyllic home threatened by a bypass can't sell or get compensation, reports Christian Wolmar
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The Independent Online
Pleasant Cottage is aptly named, but not for much longer. The owners of the 200-year-old Surrey house, Ann and Terry Hunt, face an unpleasant Hobson's choice, blighted by a road scheme that may never be built. They will either get a road on the boundary of their garden near West End, Chobham, Surrey, or, given that the scheme has been postponed for at least three years, they will be stuck in a house which is unsaleable.

The Hunts have already lived with the prospect of a by-pass in their back yard for the past eight years. It gets worse: not only can they not sell their house, they cannot obtain any compensation either.

Engineers appear to have drawn up the details of the scheme in such a way as to ensure that the Hunts were not entitled to any compensation, even though Surrey County Council, which is building the road, accepts that they would have to move out for two years during its construction.

The pounds 35m scheme for the Bisley, West End and Knaphill dual carriageway by-pass was first mooted in the late 1980s and, to the Hunts' consternation, the route nearest their home, which also cuts through a golf course and some pretty woodlands, was chosen.

Ann Hunt, who works in the marketing department of a helicopter hire firm, said: "I'm the sort of person who can cope. I'm not going to have a nervous breakdown over it, but I do think it very unfair that we no longer have control over our destiny."

Last year, the Hunts tried to sell for pounds 230,000, some pounds 40,000 less than the valuation, but there were no takers.

Ministers have fought a rearguard action for several years over compensation for people affected by transport projects. A group of residents blighted by the Channel Tunnel Rail Link proposals have been the subject of a fierce row between the Department of Transport, which has refused to pay money to people living near rather than directly on the route of schemes, and the Ombudsman. The DoT argues that if all such claims were metmany road schemes would be unviable because of the cost.

The Hunts have no right to compensation since none of their land has to be bought to make way for the road. Their only hope is a discretionary compensation scheme.

Surrey County Council acknowledges "that Pleasant Cottage would be significantly and adversely affected by the proposed works both during construction and after the new road is open to traffic" and that it has discretionary powers "to purchase properties seriously affected by road proposals". But the council cannot exercise this discretion without funding from the DoT. And the DoT has refused to fund the scheme.

The owners of the neighbouring house, 50 yards farther away from the line of the road, do have the right to be compulsorily purchased. This is because a little piece of their huge field which stretches down to the boundary of the road has to be used for the scheme.

Mrs Hunt does get slightly angry when she points to a map of the scheme. Instead of the route being shown as a straight line, there is a little zig zag around her property to ensure that none of it has to be purchased for the project - therefore taking away her right to compensation.

Last month, the planning inspector gave the go-ahead for the scheme, but then the DoTsaid no funding was available. But Surrey has not given up and is looking at the possibility of a single-carriageway by-pass.

Mike Richardson, Surrey's head of major projects, said: "We had hoped to get DoT funding. Now that this is not coming forward, it is incumbent on us to consider the case of Mrs Hunt to see whether a purchase of the house would be appropriate." But with no chance of any funding before 1998/9, councillors are likely to decide that buying the house now would be a waste of money.

In the meantime, Ann and Terry Hunt must enjoy the Pleasant Cottage life while they can.